EMPOWERMENT :: Jill Cruse Breaks Barriers

By on August 7, 2014

Jill Cruse with tennis legend Billy Jean King. / Image: Tina Solano. Courtesy Jill Cruse.

SISTERS DOING IT FOR THEMSELVES :: Gregarious Jill Cruse is a true queer success story. The photographer and vice-president of Olivia Travel, the travel company for lesbians, sets an example for LGBT people everywhere, telling GGN that while she loves her work – loving her life and being grateful are the keys to a life of success.

GGN: You know we like grateful people around here.

JC: That’s the only way to be in life!

GGN: But that comes easier for some people than others.

JC: I would say that, but I also find that when you have gratitude, that changes everything. It’s  a really important daily practice to have gratitude for whatever you’re grateful for in life.

GGN: You must be grateful for the success of Olivia Travel.

JC: The owner, president and founder, Judy Dlugacz started the company forty years ago, but it really started as a record company. This was at a time when, for women, it was impossible to get record deals, because the big labels would say, “Oh, we’ve already got our one woman…We have our Joni Mitchell, we have our Joan Biaz, we don’t need anybody else.”

So at that time, in Washington DC, at a bar, several women became a part of a collective that said it wanted to change the world, to make the world better for lesbians. That’s where it all started, with that intention. They started their own record company, bringing these women to their cities and church basements to provide music that really sang to the heart of the people there. That also brought lesbians together, in a place other than a bar.

GGN: How did that become a travel company?

JC: After fifteen years, when the kd lang’s and the Melissa Etheridges were getting signed, there really wasn’t a place for Olivia Records, which was one of the most successful independent labels of its time back then.  Judy felt like, “Well, I get to be my full self… except when I’m on vacation … So let’s try the cruise ships!” She figured out how to get $50,000, which, back then, was hard for women. To get credit, a woman’s husband had to sign for you. It was not easy. Judy she sent a mailer – at a time there was no internet – a letter saying, “I have this idea, we’d love for you to come on a four-night trip, and you’d have to send all your money in now, and you can’t cancel!”.

GGN: You’re lesbians, but that’s called balls!

JC: We didn’t know what we didn’t know back then! So Judy started the company, and I had the right last name – Cruse – and she thought that was pretty funny, saying, “So you can be the Cruise Director!” So that’s how I got into Olivia.

GGN: A lot of straight people read this site. So it’s important to say here that as an LGBT person travelling, are all kinds of considerations, especially when you enter worlds that are different from ours in North America. Checking into a hotel, and the presumption that if it’s two guys or two girls, they’ll want two beds. Safety can be a concern, too.

JC: Yes, so whether it’s a ship full of men or a ship full of women coming together, there’s a real empowerment, and a feeling of never having to look over your shoulder to wonder who’s judging you. There’s a celebration that happens and like-mindedness of getting like-minded people together; that is an experience that you can’t really put into words. It’s something that you have to feel, because I think even as a lesbian or a gay man in the straight community, we don’t really know what it is to truly feel ourselves until you identify yourself.

GGN: What does success mean to you?

JC: I think success, when you sit quietly with yourself, is really about doing what you love, and what is happening on the outside is what is emanating from you from the inside, and when you have that come together, that is success to me.

GGN: Curveball question. There was a magazine that did a piece on the 20 most hated celebrities. Sixteen of them were women, women really achieving a lot of things. Madonna, Gwyneth Paltrow, Jennifer Lopez…

JC: Oh my  gosh! Well, who created that list?

GGN: Magazine readers voted, so the general public.

JC: Wow!

GGN: Keeping in mind women are the ones who buy most of magazines like this one.

JC: I wonder if it’s because of success. I wonder if it’s because of success, and it’s a different word and a different meaning for everybody, but I think we share what success is, and that is what is happening on the outside is what is emanating from you from the inside, and you’re doing what you love, and maybe people feel intimidated by that.

GGN: Do you find in your own life, as a successful woman?

JC: Oh my gosh! I think that everybody wants to be successful, and we can’t control what everybody thinks. What’s important is what you think, and doing what you love, and so yes, sometimes there is intimidation: people have viewpoints and judgments about you, but that is something I don’t really focus on, it’s really about going after what you love doing, and knowing that you’re doing something good in the world.


  1. L lindsey

    August 9, 2014 at 8:58 pm

    I have known Jill since 1976 , and round of what she has done . I wish she would understand this and her friends from oc would love to see her and truly respect her life .

  2. John Lacombe

    August 7, 2016 at 3:31 pm

    I’ve known Jill since before she worked at Olivia and she truly is a breath of fresh air! Wonderful to be around, a great sense of humor and much more than that; a generous and loving spirit. May you have continued success doing what you love Jill! Always, -John

  3. Mary Gay Hutcherson

    August 7, 2016 at 6:19 pm

    I was on the second Olivia Cruise for my 50th birthday and now, 24 years later have had about 20 Olivia trips, including China a few months ago. Jill’s warmth and positive energy is part of what makes me keep coming back for the best travel experience lesbians can have.

  4. Debbie V-A

    August 8, 2016 at 2:21 pm

    I have known Jill since grade school and have such fond memories of growing up together. Jill has always been an upbeat, positive person who loves life and loves to laugh and make you laugh. She is the type of person you love to be around. To read that she has a successful career is not surprising. Lesbian or straight does not make a person, its who you are inside and the article above is the real Jill!

  5. Judi Barry

    August 9, 2016 at 2:05 am

    I’ve been talking to this woman on FB for awhile now. She is the Real Deal! I’ve never been on her cruise and I’m not a lesbian but this woman means what she says! She is truly happy with herself and her life. One of the nicest persons I know. If I were to cruise I defiantly would go on her cruise!

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